Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle

 

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A deeply committed film that has been widely misunderstood.

   Mowgli - Legend of the Jungle

Rohan Chand as the man cub

 

This, being a Netflix release, is available only briefly in cinemas which is a shame since it is a film which looks thoroughly at home on the big screen (I saw the 2-D version which is fine). On this occasion, I viewed it after reading reviews that were strongly critical: one regarded it as too violent for children and the other thought that, as yet another screen retelling of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book tales, it was superfluous. I believe that these points are invalid because Andy Serkis, whose project this is, has given us something distinctive.

 

In this treatment written by Callie Kloves we are no longer in a Disney world. The 1967 version, The Jungle Book, was great but strictly U certificate stuff and memorable for its songs: the 2016 remake may have been more violent, but it stayed within the bounds of a PG certificate and it was still suitable for the inclusion of songs. Mowgli is a far darker piece, in many ways a tough movie, but that is what makes it distinct from rival versions set up as family entertainment in the broadest sense. Some younger children used to more violent fare these days may take it all in their stride, but Mowgli is essentially a work akin to today’s young adult novels which treat issues that not so long ago would have been deemed unsuitable for the teenagers who now represent their main target. If adults can take pleasure from this film, so too can those just old enough to look down on animal tales geared to the very young.

 

This is fitting because Kipling’s tale is not escapist. The jungle world (here it’s South Africa standing in for India) is a harsh place and one that contains two villains: there is the tiger Shere Khan representing the ruthlessness in nature and then we have the hunter, John Lockwood (Matthew Rhys), illustrating man’s propensity for violent acts. Mowgli (Rohan Chand) is the orphaned boy brought up by wolves and as such he is a hero who feels an outsider and is often treated as such both in the animal kingdom and in the man village. On the knife-edge between being ‘different’ with all its drawbacks and being ‘special’ and so able to relish his individuality, Mowgli is a figure who invites audiences not just to relish his adventures but to think about real-life contemporary parallels.

 

Most of the characters here are animals who talk, a convention that one soon accepts, although the use of performance capture techniques is not at its most telling here (the need to portray a range of animals of recognisable species plays down the impact of seeing the actor within). But Chand is good, Serkis directs with a sure touch confirming the skill that he displayed when making Breathe and there is another notable asset too: bold and strong, Nitin Sawhney’s music store is less background than an integral part of the experience. On its own terms, which make comparisons irrelevant, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, certificate 12A, is a success.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Rohan Chand, Freida Pinto, Matthew Rhys, and the Voices of: Christian Bale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander, Andy Serkis, Peter Mullan, Naomie Harris, Eddie Marsan, Jack Raynor, Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Patrick Godfrey.

 

Dir Andy Serkis, Pro Steve Kloves, Jonathan Cavendish and Andy Serkis, Screenplay Callie Kloves, from the novel by Rudyard Kipling, Ph Michael Seresin, Pro Des Gary Freeman, Ed Alex Marquez, Jeremiah O’Driscoll and Mark Singer, Music Nitin Sawhney, Costumes Alexandra Byrne.

 

Imaginarium Productions/Warner Bros Digital Networks/Warner Bros-Netflix/Warner Bros/Curzon Artificial Eye.
104 mins. UK/USA. 2018. Rel: 29 November 2018. Cert. 12A.